Sunday, January 23, 2022

NC State basketball penalties: Wolfpack avoid postseason ban for NCAA violations involving Dennis Smith Jr.

Monday was a highly anticipated day across college sports, as the Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP) released the first ruling in its history. North Carolina State was the first school on the IARP assembly line, and its first decision was hardly a bombshell. 

The IARP decided to punish the school with one year of probation, a $5,000 fine, scholarship losses for this season and 2022-23, plus some standard recruiting limitations. The team’s 15 wins that came while Dennis Smith Jr. played at NC State must also be vacated. Most importantly: NC State was not given a postseason ban. 

The IARP assessed NC State with multiple Level I, Level II and Level III violations (nine total), sticking the majority of them with former coach Mark Gottfried and former assistant Orlando Early. Gottfried, who has been on administrative leave from Cal State Northridge (CSUN) since April, was given a one-year show-cause. Early, who refused to cooperate with the IARP’s investigation, was given a six-year show-cause sanction. 

“The Complex Case Unit alleged that from September 2014 through March 2017, members of the NC State men’s basketball staff committed multiple recruiting violations by providing recruiting inducements and extra benefits during prospective student-athlete No. 1’s recruitment and subsequent enrollment,” the IARP’s release states. “Specifically, the Complex Case Unit alleged that the former assistant coach and other men’s basketball staff members arranged for and/or provided prospective student-athlete No. 1 and individuals associated with him approximately $46,761 in impermissible inducements and benefits.”

The case centered around the recruitment, commitment and subsequent enrollment of Smith, a former five-star recruit who attended NC State in 2016-17. A $40,000 payment to help ensure Smith would remain committed to NC State — prior to his enrollment — was the focal point of this investigation. Though Gottfried was not alleged to have been a participating the payment to Smith, he was nonetheless charged for failing to monitor his program, and Early, appropriately. That is a Level I violation — the most severe type.

“The former head coach disputed that he failed to monitor the former assistant coach, primarily arguing that it would have been impossible for him to detect the $40,000 payment, and moreover, that no red flags alerted him to any potential or actual improprieties in prospective student-athlete No. 1’s recruitment,” according to the IARP’s infractions decision.

Adidas and its former associate, T.J. Gassnola, who pled guilty and became a cooperating government witness at federal trial, played a key role in the saga. Had Gassnola not flipped, it’s conceivable NC State would not have been caught up the crosshairs of a federal trial and years worth of investigations from the NCAA and the IARP.

“Until the apparel company outside consultant’s cooperation agreement, the U.S. government had not known about the $40,000 payment,” the IARP’s release states. “According to this testimony, the former assistant coach told the apparel company outside consultant that he would deliver the money to the former trainer, who in turn, would deliver the money to prospective [Smith’s] family.”

The illicit act in question happened more than a year before Smith ever played a game for the Wolfpack. 

“On November 2, 2015, the day the apparel company outside consultant flew to Raleigh and delivered $40,000 in cash to the former assistant coach, the former head coach spoke by phone to the apparel company outside consultant for six minutes and texted with him twice,” the infractions decision reads. “The former assistant coach spoke by telephone to the former trainer three times that day. The former assistant coach texted with the apparel company outside consultant nine times that same day.”

Despite such a significant payment, the IARP’s 15-person panel ultimately decided punishing the current staff and players — none of whom were there when this wrongdoing took place. Smith Jr. played one season in 2016-17 for the program before turning pro as an NBA Draft lottery pick. 

The IARP process has no appeal, meaning NC State and all future schools under review must accept the penalties delivered to them. Memphis, Kansas, LSU, Louisville and Arizona all await their cases to be resolved. Sources told CBS Sports Memphis is next in line, while Arizona and Kansas could be waiting until the fall of 2022 before their cases are finalized. The IARP was born out of a recommendation from the Rice Commission, which formed after the infamous FBI scandal of 2017 prompted shock and some restructuring in college athletics.  

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